Fall of Rome Interview (PC)
Strategy Informer: Hello. Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what role you have in the Fall of Rome development team?
Rick McDowell: Hi, I’m Rick McDowell, the designer and project manager of Fall of Rome (www.fallofromegame.com). I coordinate the work of the programmers, artists, web site developers, and customer service.
Strategy Informer: Fall of Rome is an online strategy game. What can you tell us about it in general?
Rick McDowell: Fall of Rome is an “Episodic Strategy” game. The setting is early Dark Ages Europe. Its hundreds of characters include Attila the Hun and King Arthur. All characters can increase in power, or conversely, be killed or wounded. The plot centers around the efforts of the twelve kings in each game to achieve victory. Its theme is man vs. man conflict. It is true, that is, turn-based, strategy for twelve players per game. Each turn represents an episode because so much happens. It is not RTS or any other kind of click-fest. The great Sid Meier calls Fall of Rome an “electronic strategy board game”. Players that enjoy strategy board games like Axis and Allies, Diplomacy, Settlers of Catan, or even Risk will love it, although it is a deeper game than those. It combines elements of war games and rpg in engrossing multiplayer strategy. It is a competitive game, with a winner determined in no more than 24 turns. Each turn every player submits fifteen or more distinct commands, for example, battle tactics, moving armies, political actions, covert missions and economic development. We cater mainly to working adults who don’t have endless hours to play. Our players spend about an hour or so anytime they want within a three day period to plan their turn and submit their commands. Here is the twist that most players have never seen in other games: each player independently chooses the time most convenient for him to plan his turn and issue his commands. A time counter counts down to show the time remaining until the turn is processed, starting at 72 hours. When it gets to 0:00, all commands are processed simultaneously for all twelve players in the game. All players then immediately can access the game to learn the results of all their commands, their maps are updated to reflect new conditions and intelligences, and of course, all battles are resolved. A more thorough description can be found at http://fallofromegame.com/whatIs.asp.
Strategy Informer: How many nations will it feature?
Rick McDowell: There are twelve historically accurate barbarian tribes in the game, one for each player. They include the Huns of Attila, the Celts under King Arthur, and ten others including the Vandals, Goths, Saxons, and Norse. Each tribe begins with possession of territory on the map closest to its historical home and attempts to conquer entire regions like Gaul or Germania.
Strategy Informer: How many different units? Will each nation have its own unique units?
Rick McDowell: There are twelve varieties of warriors, including horse archers, elite cavalry, guards infantry, and expert archers. Each tribe has its unique mix of these warriors to form the basic combat unit we call a brigade. For example, the Huns feature plenty of horse archers, while the Franks carry lots of heavy and guards infantry. A brigade is about 2000 warriors. Multiple brigades are put together in a force called a legion. Each tribe has at least five legions available to it. Players can also recruit mercenary brigades of different types.
Strategy Informer: What can you tell us about Fall of Rome battles? What kind of battle system does it feature?
Rick McDowell: Fall of Rome battles are unlike anything your readers have seen. This is a perfect example about “easy to learn, difficult to master”. Ordering a legion to enter into battle is quite simple: just right click on the legion to get its command menu, select, let’s say, “Attack Enemy Legion”, and then choose the tactic from around a dozen or so available. Let’s say, “Flank”. Then the interface asks you to confirm your choices, and you have now successfully ordered an attack. When the turn is processed, though, the code goes through many dozens of variables to determine how the battle is resolved. Factors affecting the outcome include terrain, morale, leadership, brigade experience, attrition, number of brigades, tactics, artifacts, warrior types and more. The battles are resolved in phases. For example, long range archery is the first phase, later is cavalry charge, infantry melee, and others, ending in a retreat phase (or annihilation of a side in some cases). All of this is communicated to the player in a page-long story that addresses how the battle unfolded, what heroes were wounded, killed, emerged, or distinguished themselves, and what brigades were lost, suffered what amount of casualties, or gained experience. Each battle is distinct: no two reports are ever the same. There are no exploding pixels, but there is lots of strategy.
Strategy Informer: What about town sieges?
Rick McDowell: Attacking villages, towns, fortresses, cities, or citadels is similar from a GUI perspective as legion vs. legion battles. A player clicks on the legion he wishes to use to attack a town, for example. He can then choose to either lay siege or assault its walls directly. Laying siege takes more than one turn, whereas the assault is resolved in the turn ordered. Like field battles, attacking a population center provides a number of tactical choices. There is a simple “Assault”, there is “Storm”, where higher casualties will be accepted by the attacker, “No Quarter”, where if the attack is successful, all enemy nobles in the town will be put to the sword, as well as likely a number of innocent townfolk, so this has the effect of worsening the reaction of the peasants of that region to the attackers, Barbarism, wherein some malicious show, such as catapulting severed heads over the town walls is employed to sow dismay among the defenders, and several other tactical choices are available. On the other side, in addition to its walls and militia, the town may have a garrison of a brigade of more if that improvement has been built. It may also have military leaders if the tribe owning the town has stationed them there, and they will make the defenders fight better. Different town improvements also aid in the defense.
Strategy Informer: As a leader of nation, what will I be doing? Diplomacy, asassinations, spying?
Rick McDowell: Yes, among other things. The game features four major areas: military, political, covert, and economic. On the military side you will marshal your legions, maneuver them, recruit, train, attack, lay siege, garrison, patrol, and scout for information, among others. Each kingdom has a noble court - personalities of various ranks, such as Duke or Baron - and so varying power. These nobles can stir unrest, maintain status quo, incite rebellion, usurp control, or relocate to different towns and cities, as the player sees fit. This political model is absolutely unique in gaming, there is nothing else like it. On the covert side, Agents carry out the nefarious deeds for the kingdom. Agents increase in their skill through training and successfully completing missions. Missions include reconnaissance, sabotage, theft, poisoning, diversions, counter-espionage, and of course, assassinations. The economic model is not burdensome to the player. Population centers produce gold and supplies. Most of the supplies come from controlling villages. Most of the gold comes from the commerce of cities. Towns have a mix of both. These resources are used to maintain the armies, devlop economies further, pay Agents and Nobles for their missions, recruit new characters, or for the king to spend in a region to make its people more receptive to him, or less receptive to his enemies. Besides all that, players can communicate with one another through the game’s messaging system. Here they share information, form alliances, create rumors and send mis-information, all depending on their style of play and the game situation.
Strategy Informer: How many players can play it?
Rick McDowell: Any one game, or “campaign” as they are called, has twelve players from around the globe. Because of our system, players don’t need to be online at the same time, so geography makes no difference. There can be hundreds of games going on at the same time with thousands of different players involved.
Strategy Informer: How much does the subscription costs?
Rick McDowell: We have four different service levels. The basic, introductory service is just $8.95 a month. There are no other costs: no software to buy, no upgrades to buy, etc. The games are hosted on our secure servers, so a player can play anywhere, on any machine where he can access the internet, ie, it is not “installed” to a single PC. The higher service levels allow the player to be in more than one game simultaneously. When a game ends, players sign up for a new game, choosing their kingdom preference and the persona (screen name) they will be known by. These personas become well known throughout the community, and records of which personas have won each game are maintained on the web site.
Strategy Informer: Is there anything you would like to add?
Rick McDowell: Fall of Rome is my second published design, and the second to win Game of the Year at Origins for Multiplayer Strategy. It is about deep, rewarding gameplay, not splashy 3D graphics. Your wits, not your reflexes are what matter in Fall of Rome. We are known for having a bug-free game with great customer support, and a game that is the favorite of virtually everyone playing it. Replay value is huge. It is offered with a free trial: visit us at www.fallofromegame.com to learn more!
Strategy Informer: Thank you for your time at Strategyinformer.com!
Rick McDowell: It has been a pleasure! Thank you for your interest in Fall of Rome!